Friday, March 28, 2008

 

It's So Over for Household Spending

From my favorite economist, Paul Kasriel, a graph heavy tract on why consumer spending is likely to slow significantly. To summarize, Americans have been reallying on mortgage equity withdrawals and, more recently, sales of equities to fund spending which has outstripped income for about 8 years. Households cannot run deficits forever without risking bankruptcy. Once the savings runs out the spending stops and this is especially bad news for the economy.

The upshot of all this is that in the next several years, the U.S. is likely to experience not only sluggish growth in homebuilding, but also very sluggish growth in the demand for home furnishings and other consumer discretionary goods and services. It very well could be that instead of U.S. corporations being the biggest buyers of U.S. corporate equities, U.S. households could become the biggest buyers. Similarly, instead of foreign central banks continuing to be big buyers of U.S. Treasury debt, U.S. households could take their place - i.e., after the yield on Treasury securities rises above the U.S. consumer inflation rate.


The U.S. economy is due for a fundamental shift simply because the world is starting to consume more and to need the capital which we have used. It is our turn to save and finance the rest of the world. This will be a difficult transition to put it mildly.

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The Friday Kickoff



Time to start a tradition at Brain Droppings. We will begin each weekend with a rockin' tune or two, feel free fellow BDroppers to add a song, just to get the weekend going and I can think of no better song than the Heart of Lothian by old favorite Marillion. Now it's time to score the afternoon baby's nap goal...

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

 

From $70K to food bank, one family's struggle

It is amazing how fast the American dream can turn sour. The article doesn't indicate how much Ms. Guerrero spent on things other than her $2,500.00 mortgage but with an income of $70k she much have other debts and very little savings to have burned through it all in 2 months. Unfortunately, she was probably living well above her means. Still it is hard not to fell sorry for her since she is likely to be one of the thousands of Americans who are losing their homes every month.

CNN has a series called America's Money: In their own words in which families discuss their hardships. Many of these people have lost jobs in housing or related fields plus credit card debt, student loans, or just the higher cost of food and fuel. Sure the evidence is anecdotal but the common problems of these families makes me believe that job loss is fairly widespread and over indebtedness will push into recession very soon if not sooner.

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You can walk away Renee, from your home

Not sure about the legality of breaking your contract with the bank but from a financial point of view Jim Cramer is right on the ball. If you own a home you can't sell, the payments are onerous, i.e. greater than 40% of your income, and you have little or no equity walking away makes an awful lot of sense especially if the bank let's you off the hook. And they might if going through the foreclosure process is costly enough and the bank thinks it can sell at a better price today than 6 months down the road.

The truth is that it makes sense to rent in most urban environments while prices are falling and while the housing market is years away from picking up. Walk away now and you will pay less for housing and be able to buy in a few years perhaps 20% cheaper. That is if your credit isn't ruined. Here is a website dedicated to helping people through the process of walking away from their home. A sure sign that the deflating of the bubble is not anywhere near over.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 

Republican Primary Reform

Jed Babbin has a piece on the Human Events website about the RNC's attempt to reform the Republican primary process that is so obviously flawed. A commenter highlights three needed reforms.

I'm going to catch a lot of heat from my fellow Iowans for this, but I think we need three reforms: A primary-order lottery, proportional representation, and a no-Dems/Independents rule.

First, the lottery. Iowa and New Hampshire offer some advantages as first-in-the-nation states, primarily because they are small-enough to offer candidates a chance to try out their retail politicking. Iowans and New Hampshire residents tend to take this responsibility VERY seriously.

However, putting them permanently in front does not make any sense whatsoever. The ethanol scam only gets our tax dollars because Iowa is a first-in-the-nation caucus. Offering a lottery with widely-separated primaries/caucuses will shake things up a bit, and will reduce the possibility that the MSM can pull another McCain sweep of a Super-Tuesday.

Second, we need proportional representation. I don't see any sense whatsoever in a winner-takes-all system that rewards the RINO's who win large states that the Republicans will never carry.

Third, we need to keep the Dems and the "Independents" out of our balloting process. Mr. Babbin got this point 100% correct, crossover votes won McCain the nomination, not Republican votes. It's time to make it as hard as possible to participate in Republican primaries.

Good luck getting any of this through the RNC, however. They won't want to be accused of partisanship or restricting voting rights, despite the fact that partisanship and restricting voting are what they are there to do.

http://www.XYYLibertarian.blogspot.com/


A proportional representative system would have given Mitt Romney the lead in delegates going into Super-Tuesday and that might have been all the momentum he needed. Instead we are stuck with McVain. Good enough reason to scrap the current process.

 

CTA Threatens to Become More Useful

At least for me this new feature will make a big difference. I've often thought how convenient it would be if I knew where the buses and trains were at a given moment to plan my commute accordingly.

The dedicated CTA Bus Tracker web site (www.ctabustracker.com) provides customers with a route map with icons indicating the location and direction of each bus currently in service, an alarm feature that will alert customers when a bus is approaching their selected bus stop, as well as the arrival times at bus stops.

If this works it will be a great asset.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

 

Words of Wakeman and Wisdom

Rick Wakeman's explanation for deciding not to tour with Yes this year offers wisdom I feel applicable to any of the numerous aging, well established rock bands out there who are still touring:

"Over the years, I have had my fair share of "narrow escapes" when it comes to health and I felt that I simply could not do months and months of touring each year anymore and I expressed this to the other guys from the outset. I'm absolutely fine at the moment, but want to stay that way, so I suggested to the new management that we perhaps limited the shows we would do and make each show something special, but this was rejected with the management feeling that lengthy touring was the answer for the band.

It was therefore with an extremely heavy heart that I had to say to the guys that I could not be part of a massive long term touring schedule as I did not feel it right for the band musically and also for the band member's health. We are a democratic band and I accept that I was a sole voice in this thinking."


I'll most likely see Yes in Chicago this summer but I think it would be a much better experience if Rick were playing with them and they had followed his advice. I know there is a financial factor involved here but many of the older bands that are still touring don't seem to need the money.

From my experience going to concerts I think older musicians put on a much better show when they are well rested and in good spirits. I've often checked the posted tour schedules to see where they are at in the grind to see how it might appear to effect their performance. Reading some of their messages posted on group sites offers insight as well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

 

Dean Kamen's amazing water purifier.


 

No Party Here

Detroit Mayor faces charges of perjury (and more). He is a Democrat but that is not mentioned in this AP story. This favorable treatment regarding party affiliation has been noticed by many for some time now. I've never actually looked at a story to see if or when a R or D is mentioned so I thought I'd follow this Yahoo link and see for myself.

 

No News, Just Gossip

Ace: "Fact checking? We're well beyond errors explainable by negligence. The fact that the LAT cannot supply a single quote to support its claim proves they know none exist.

This is, as is becoming increasingly common and increasingly transparent, the MSM simply lying.

They're not even trying to hide it anymore."


Emphasis mine. The MSM are not reporting the news. They are gossiping and fighting to control the Narratave.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

 

Somewhere, Jimmy the Greek is betting on McCain

Or maybe Hillary in the primary.

Obama (via Ace who added emphasis):

"The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity," he said. "But she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know. . .there's a reaction that's been bred into her experiences that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way."

Bill C adds: You know who else is a typical white person? Jesse Jackson. (It goes to show you that the civil war within the Democratic party is getting heated when I am linking Democratic Underground to point out Obama's racial stereotyping.)

 

Jim M's absolutely last chance to play Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen

Just as long as I get to play the Baron. I have been working my way into that role for the past few years. Yeah, that's the ticket.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

 

NObama

I haven't seen Obama's speech but I've read the text posted on Drudge. If that is all there is then I think he has made a big mistake. This might work to unify the Democratic Party but I don't think this will go over well with the country as a whole.

He has chosen to play the race card and I just don't believe that will work. What purpose is there for listing the wrongs of slavery? It seems he is using that as an excuse for the comments made by his former pastor, Wright, and for any failings of African Americans today. Does he really think that Wright's inspiring sermons to an entire congregation are equivalent to some racist comments made by some old white grandparent or uncle?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

 

Crash Alert

After quick look around and the fact that the biggest damage is being done in the opaque credit markets I thought it would be prudent to throw up the crash alert. Why?

Sell stocks while the selling's good.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Much of the seized collateral consists of illiquid asset-backed securities carried on books at prices assigned by computer models, not the market. As soon as they are actually priced by the markets in these fire sales, any similar securities held by other funds are then automatically re-priced to that new lower level -- slashing their value as collateral. In this way, funds that might otherwise be innocent bystanders are dragged into a lethal vortex, as collateral is being downgraded and new margin calls are generated at breathtaking speed. Indeed, the acceleration of this downward spiral in the value of collateral has caught everyone by surprise, precipitating the latest phase of the panic. [Emphasis added.]


I consider myself fairly well plugged in but the bad news is coming so fast that it is prudent to assume there is more coming. I have been anticipating the end of the great asset bubble(s) for so long I am not about to underplay its effects on the world economy. Good Luck.

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Bear Stearns 2

...as in $2.

Well, it didn't take long for the other shoe to drop.

The deal calls for J.P. Morgan to pay $2 a share in a stock-swap transaction, with J.P. Morgan Chase exchanging 0.05473 share of its common stock for each Bear Stearns share. Both companies' boards have approved the transaction, which values Bear Stearns at just $236 million based on the number of shares outstanding as of Feb. 16. At Friday's close, Bear Stearns's stock-market value was about $3.54 billion. It finished at $30 a share in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday.

Effective immediately, J.P. Morgan Chase is guaranteeing the trading obligations of Bear Stearns and its subsidiaries and is providing management oversight for its operations. The deal isn't subject to any conditions, except shareholder approval. It is expected to close before the end of the second quarter. [Emphasis added.]


The most important thing for the Fed right now is that a bunch of financial dark matter doesn't get dumped on the markets causing further problems for banks. Implicit is the Fed's promise to keep J.P. Morgan liquid in the midsts of this credit squeeze. And so the Fed rides to the rescue with a big dollop of rate cuts. Weekend rate cuts. Smells like a panic to me. Well not as bad as you might think.

As of 10:30 pm Chicago time,

Dow Futures: -201
Euro Futures: +190 to 157.86
Gold Futures: +28.7 to 1028.5.

The Fed Funds rate at 3.25% leaves them with more cutting room but not much more. Panics tend to be fairly quick affairs so we will see what develops this week. At least Easy Al has it right this time.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

 

Bear Stearns

Bear Stearns has fallen because of a liquidity crisis that is gaining momentum and spreading. This thing is moving so fast it is hard to keep up.

``If you have leverage, you're stuffed,'' said Alex Allen, chief investment officer of London-based Eddington Capital Management Ltd., which has $195 million invested in hedge funds for clients. He likens the crisis to a bank panic turned upside down with bankers, not depositors, concerned they won't get their money back.

The lending crackdown is the worst to hit the $1.9 trillion hedge-fund industry since Russia's debt default in 1998 roiled global credit markets and required the U.S. Federal Reserve to pressure the securities industry to arrange a $3.6 billion bailout of Greenwich, Connecticut-based Long-Term Capital Management LP. Today, hedge funds are being forced to sell assets to meet banks' margin calls, resulting in the dissolution of the funds.

``There has to be more in the next weeks,'' Allen said. ``There are people who have been hanging on by their fingernails who can't hold on much, much longer.'' [Emphasis added.]

Now we know that one of the banks that is holding on by its finger nails was Bear Stearns. But don't worry, the Fed is using it's ability to devalue the U.S. dollar to prop them up.

Specifically, J.P. Morgan will borrow funds from the Fed's discount window and relend them to Bear Stearns for 28 days. The borrowings from the Fed will be secured by collateral furnished by Bear Stearns, and the Fed, not J.P. Morgan, is bearing the risk of losses if that collateral falls in value. The size isn't predetermined, but is limited by the available collateral. [Emphasis added.]


This are my questions: that the size of loan depends on the amount of collateral, who values that collateral and based on what criteria? Is it illiquid mortgage backed securities? I think the answers are the Fed, whatever keeps Bear Stearns afloat, and yes plus a load of other asset backed crap that no one else wants to buy at any price.

So the Fed is guaranteeing that Bear Stearns won't be liquidated and everyone is hoping that this is the last crisis because it sure is taking a toll on the value of the dollar. That link should really scare the pants off you because there are billions of dollars under beds in third world countries and if they decided to convert to the euro then we are in real trouble. The Fed has completely abandoned the idea of maintaining the value of the dollar and that is making Americans poorer and poorer.

Ok, back to the credit crunch. Bear Stearns will be sold but it probably won't be sold for a dollar like Barings. What the Fed really wants to do is prevent Bear Stearns from being forced to sell it's inventory of debt instruments onto a weak market which would probably force other banks/ hedge funds into margin calls and liquidation. Still the news is not good for BSC and their shareholders are going to get the short end.

The developments could mean the end of independence for Bear, founded in 1923. J.P. Morgan said it is "working closely with Bear Stearns on securing permanent financing or other alternatives for the company" -- Wall Street lingo for a sale or other strategic-level change -- and CNBC reported that the bank is "actively being shopped" to potential buyers.


Buying this stock even though it has had a massive drop is not a solid investment. More shoes will be dropping and the Fed is running out of solutions. That is also something that should scare your pants off.

Update: It is now pretty clear that the Fed rally caused by the announcement that the Fed was going to expand it's targeted liquidity program was probably timed with the idea that this Bear Stearns news was going to hit the market soon. A preemptive strike, IOW.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

 

My advice for the CBOT...in 1995



It is amazing what you can find when you start cleaning out your closets with the determination to go through every piece of paper and throw out the junk. This is my contribution to a newsletter put out by a group of independent traders and brokers many of whom had problems with the the way the Chicago Board of Trade was being run. This is my response to a letter from someone named John Tocks who wanted to place limits on the electronic trading system know as Project A. I was trading on Project A and doing well but I thought his fear of electronic trading was short sighted.

In September of 2000 the CBOT shut down Project A in favor of a partnership with the German exchange DTB amove which I vigorously opposed. In fact, we had successfully managed to stop the deal one time but the CBOT management was dead set on making the deal happen. It was a disaster draining the Board of finances and eliminating the Board's small group of programmers in favor of a agreement to lease a system that was older than Project A on terms that were unfavorable to the Board. Shortly after the CBOT and DTB made that deal the DTB announced that this was the first step in an eventual merger of the CBOT and DTB. We could thank the geniuses at Anderson Consulting for this debacle.

Now the CBOT is a subsidiary of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. A fitting end to the stupid policies of the CBOT. There was a panic over electronic trading eliminating floor trading and the CBOT ended up in a horrible deal because of it. I wonder how much I contributed to this panic?

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A marine gives Code Pink a hard time

And that marine is a correspondent on the Daily Show. Hilarious. I wonder if Rob Riggle is going have a future in show business.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

 

NCAA Prediction

Memphis over UCLA in the finals.

Of course I get to revise that if the brackets don't allow for that in the championship game.

The field for the big tournament will be decided next Sunday but I think the committee should decide now how many will be selected from each conference. Then when the conference tournaments play out any upset winners will bounce a team from within that conference rather than some at large 'bubble team'.

It seems silly for San Diego to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Championship and then winding up knocking some out of conference team from the NCAA tournament. Keep it in the family. Why should any one conference get an extra bid just because they had an upset in their own tournament?

Monday, March 10, 2008

 

George Fox joins the pantheon of great aliases

Ron Mexico still number one. Of course it is always best to chose a name that doesn't belong to a real person.

The law enforcement official said that several people running the prostitution ring knew Mr. Spitzer by the name of George Fox, though a few of the prostitutes came to realize he was the governor of New York.

Mr. Fox is a friend and donor to Mr. Spitzer. Asked in a telephone interview Monday whether he accompanied Mr. Spitzer to Washington on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, Mr. Fox responded: “Why would you think that? I did not.”

Told that the Room 871 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel was registered in Mr. Fox’s name but with Mr. Spitzer’s Fifth Avenue address, Mr. Fox said, “That is the first I have heard of it. Until I speak to the governor further, I have no comment.”


Also, Eliot Spitzer might be a bit of an egomaniac.


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Sunday, March 09, 2008

 

The credit crunch is hitting prime markets

Credit is continuing to contract with evidence that banks are getting antsy about extending credit to even highly safe investments.

Increasing volatility and concern among banks about leverage levels, combined with fear that the global credit crisis could worsen, mean some lenders are asking for more securities as they question the value of even the highest-rated securities. Peloton Partners, a London-based hedge fund set up by some former Goldman Sachs partners, was forced last week to liquidate a $1.8 billion fund that invested in top-rated debt. The fixed-income fund of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company was in talks with lenders last month about delaying some debt repayments.

"This phase has been driven by liquidation, and it raises the question, are others vulnerable, too?" said Vivek Tawadey, a credit analyst at BNP Paribas in London.


It's a good old fashioned panic. The question at the end of this snippet is obviously yes and not because other hedge funds hold particularly risky debt but because when a panic begins even the best get a hair cut. Credit/leverage is a two way street and the magnified effects of shrinking credit will hit some that may surprise you.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

 

One out of seventeen mortgages are deliquent

Think about that number for a second. 1 out of 17. I don't think most people have any idea how bad this financial crisis is going to become. We are just feeling the beginning of this with a lot more pain to come. The weak highly leveraged people have already been devastated but the credit crunch is going to start hitting the average person. The point of recognition, and panic, is coming very soon. I can feel it. Well more like see it in the performances of former darlings like AAPL and GOOG.

Credit is much more difficult to come by and a lot of our economy is grinding to a halt without banks being willing to lend or customers with solid credit unwilling to buy assets when they really don't know where the bottom is. We have years of stupid lending to unwind. If you think of it in terms of how long our economy has run on easy, cheap credit and how far asset prices have risen beyond normal growth would dictate then you will understand how much pain we are going to experience. Yup, this is only the beginning.

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Weis Wants Mandatory Fitness Test For Officers

Chicago's new top cop said he is considering a mandated physical fitness test for officers, one that could also take into account body fat, not only how much a cop weighs.

Saying the current system of using cash to encourage cops to get fit doesn't work, Supt. Jody Weis said any requirements probably would be grandfathered in and nothing will likely happen for a year. He also knows he has to work with the union.


Former CPD Superintendent Phil Cline could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

 

The Chicago Way

Corrupt

Rick Moran has been wondering the same thing I have:
Many of us familiar with Chicago politics have been wondering for months at the apparent disconnect of the media regarding Obama’s relationship to the Chicago political machine. Where did they think this guy came from?

The lack of curiosity by the press about Obama’s connections to one of the most corrupt city governments in the United States should be one of the big media stories of this campaign. While it is true that Obama’s connections to the Machine are not as extensive as many other politicians, I’ve got news for you Obama apologists; try running for any office in Chicago – local, state, or federal – and see how far you get without support from the regular Democrats.
He links to this excellent John Kass column from today.

UPDATE: Wretchard comments:
To truly accept tha the existence of the "Chicago Way" is to simultaneously concede the necessity of the painstaking, often morally ambiguous ways needed to deal with it. The "Chicago Way" is the domestic expression of the International Way. Not the fairy-tale United Nations paradise imagined by some, but as it really is: a sad place thronged with tyrants, psychopaths and dangerous people, the Capones, Rezkos and Daleys of the world stage.

People who need to believe Barack Obama can solve the world crisis by calling a Muslim summit must of necessity need to forget you can't clear corruption from Chicago by meeting with the aldermen of that great city. To believe in the Audacity of Hope you need to dis-remember the Chicago Way. Especially if you plan on voting for the man representing Hope who came from there.

 

Ahmadinejad's Boast

Proof Iran is behind the violence in Iraq?

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno comments on Ahmadinejad's boast that he can walk around Iraq without body armor or an armored car:
The general alluded to a boast on Monday by Ahmadinejad that he was able to visit Iraq openly, unlike other foreign leaders who made unannounced visits that lasted just a few hours.

"My comment is I'm not surprised. Because over the last 12 months whenever a visitor would come from the United States, we needed to foil a rocket attack, he said.

"Guess what? That is because it was being done by an Iranian surrogate."


(My emphasis.)
Via Michael Ledeen, who found the link via Captian's Journal

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

 

The Future Of Privatization

Everything?

John Robb speculates that the publics' loss of confidence in the ability of the government to manage common threats will result in the privatization of everything, including defense. Via Wretchard, who provides this exerpt:
The success of these enforcement efforts has been amplified by recent judicial changes that have automated the conviction of perpetrators based on recorded acts. This allows these certified teams to carry out the death penalty at the point of capture. We expect that these efforts will reduce the effect of disruptions drain on the national economy by five percent of gross national product by 2030 (which should be sufficient to allow economic growth to return).

Unfortunately, there have been indications that bio-terrorism is on the rise, with the worst incident to date occurring in San Antonio during the summer of 2023, inflicting some 300,000 casualties. Significantly, most of the information required for these acts have been developed by criminal groups located outside of the US for financial gain through extortion and other forms coercion. To prevent terrorists from inside of the US from acquiring this information and to slow the growth of criminal activity, national security licenses have been issued to international vendors to intercept these criminal elements within their countries of origin and terminate their activities. Time will tell if these efforts at early intervention will work. Regardless, we are hopeful.
Its a provocative article, 3 pages in length. Well worth a read.

Wretchard observes:
When the state loses the moral authority to combat terror groups it loses it across the board. The inability of the state to stop violence by substate actors will inevitably lead to corresponding defensive measures by networked communities. Maybe all cities will one day come to resemble Third World cities, like Baghdad, with neighborhood watch groups and checkpoints between districts. The ultimate expression of a multicultural society are urban mazes of gated, privately-patrolled ghettos.

Much earlier I wrote that the logical flaw in assuming Islamic radicals, developing WMD in a cave, could privately attack the Western civilians with impunity was the assumption that Western civilians couldn't do the same. "The really harmful consequence of not recognizing proxy warfare and addressing it openly is that it creates a subterranean world of countermeasures. A black market in defense."

"We are all Hizbullah now". Not yet, but soon.
I fear he is right.

 

Financing Political Campaigns

Ban foreign donations and mandate full disclosure

John Lott and Brad Smith note the distorting effect public financing has on national elections:
Rather, what taxpayer financing has done is to distort campaigns. For example, when an incumbent president doesn't face a serious challenge during the primaries, he can sit on the public funds obtained during the primaries until the nominee from the other party has been determined, and then use those primary funds to attack his general election opponent.

The non-incumbent party's nominee must usually battle for the nomination and typically reaches the spending limit imposed by the taxpayer-funding system by March. These challengers are then severely limited in their ability to campaign until their nominating conventions in August. Challengers Walter Mondale in 1984 and Bob Dole in 1996 were pummeled for months with little financial means to respond.
Via Ed Morrissery, who believes public financing has no place in a free nation. I agree. I also agree with this:
The answer is that the entire campaign-finance reform structure should be scrapped, along with all of the tax-free statuses for political organizations. Eliminate tax incentives for 527s and the like and demand immediate and full disclosure of monies going to political parties and candidates instead. That will force accountability to where it belongs and make the candidates and parties responsible for their messaging. If nothing else, it’s worth the same try we’ve given the top-down, Byzantine bureaucratic system over the last 30+ years.
We should also retain the ban on foreign contributions.

 

Requiring Immigrants To Become Legal

Amnesty proponents absurd new slogan

Democrats are set to try to rephrase the immigration debate:
Titled "Winning The Immigration Debate," the study was put together by the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the Center for American Progress. Its findings, which have been sent to Capitol Hill and have been part of briefing sessions in both the House and the Senate, are based off of polling conducted by Peter Hart Research Associates.

Taken as a whole, the report presents a new prism through which the Democrats should approach the immigration debate. "It is unacceptable to have 12 million people in our country who are outside the system," it reads. "We must require illegal immigrants to become legal, and reform the laws so this can happen."
This argument is simply absurd. Any illegal immigrant who desires legal status can go back to his/her home country and apply for an immigration visa. Will anyone in the GOP be bold enough to argue this in public?

At least some in the GOP understand public sentiment regarding immigration and are plan to take action:
Senate Republicans are set to announce today the hardest-hitting package of immigration enforcement measures seen yet -- one that would require jail time for illegal immigrants caught crossing the border, make it harder for them to open bank accounts and compel them to communicate in English when dealing with federal agencies.

Most of the bills stand little chance of being debated in the Democratic-controlled Congress. But the move by some of the Senate's leading Republicans underscores how potent the immigration issue remains, particularly in a presidential election year.
From the Huffington post:
Added Cecilia Muñoz, senior vice president of policy at the National Council of La Raza and chair of the board at CCIR: "We are not asking people to be for legalization out of altruism. It is perfectly okay for them to be for legalization because that is what fixes the problem... Rather than educate [the public], you can convince them to do the right thing if you call it a requirement as opposed to an effort."

(My emphasis)
What an argument. Muñoz articulates the truth, at least as the elites and members of the bipartisan coalition who favor mass immigration see it: The worse it gets for ordinary Americans, the more they will clamor for anything that alleviates the problem -- and there is only one acceptable outcome: Just accept it. Democracy, this isn't.

But it seems to be reality:
State and local efforts to control illegal immigration likely will become irrelevant after November's national election, Second District Congressman Dan Boren told the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

"After the presidential election, I think we're more likely to have federal legislation that will pre-empt a lot of what's going on at the state and local level," Boren said in answer to a question about Oklahoma's House Bill 1804.
Boren goes on to say that whoever that president is probably won't matter much. Sad but true.

Links via Mark Kirkorian.

After citing Mickey Kause and Tammy Bruce (I cite both in my post, Virtual Fense Is A Ruse), Tony Blankley comments:
I am not by nature a believer in large political conspiracies — noting that usually events can be explained by merely a conspiracy of idiots against the forces of reason. And so perhaps in this case, too. The Bush administration and the leaders of the Democratic Party both want (for different reasons) no obstruction to the full flood of illegal workers (for the Republicans) and voters (for the Democrats) into the United States: Thus their adamant opposition to a physical obstruction to such passage. Whether they truly believed in the efficacy of the virtual fence or not, I must leave up to soul readers.

But either way, the announcement last week demonstrates the complete political failure of those of us who have argued for an effective policy implementation to promptly gain control of our borders and staunch the flood of illegal border crossings. It is now highly likely that whoever wins the presidency, we are facing eight more years of unsecured borders and the addition of many millions more illegals into our already unstable body politic. Alea iacta est (the die is cast).
I'm afraid it is. Should the pro amnesty crowd get away with this our republic will never be the same.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

 

Steve Stone

A good move for the White Sox

The best color analyst in baseball will be Ed Farmer's parnter on White Sox radio broadcasts full time:
The plan had been for Steve Stone to call 13 White Sox games this season, all Friday home games.

That plan changed Tuesday, when the Sox and WSCR-AM 670 announced that Stone would replace radio color analyst Chris Singleton.

With Singleton leaving for another broadcasting job -- sources said it was ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" -- the Sox brought in Stone to take on the full-season gig.
Very good news. Not that I dislike Singleton, but I have not been alone in hoping something like this would happen after the Cubs foolishly pushed him out the door a couple of years ago. I hope Sox radio and television broadcasts will be in sync with one another this year.

 

Iraq & The Long War

A new phase

Nato's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer worries about the repercussions for Nato troops in Afghanistan from a planned Dutch broadcast of a Geert Wilders film about the Koran. From the BBC:
Mr Wilders' film is called Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe strife or discord.

He has said his film will show how the Koran is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror".

Mr Wilders leads the Freedom Party, which has nine seats in the Dutch parliament.

He has had police protection since Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004.

Van Gogh's film Submission included verses from the Koran shown against a naked female body.
I agree with Wretchard that we've reached a radically different stage in the long war:
Wilders already lives the life of fugitive. He has been living under police protection since director Theo Van Gogh was killed by an Islamists in 2004. He is hiding for his life in the heart of Europe. So what's Wilders got to lose? His freedom?

For decades the nostrum of cultural self-flagellation seemed to work so well it seemed self-evident that more was better. It's easy to think that trends are forever linear; that the moment never comes when you run out of space to run, money to bribe or that the n+1th step behaves in a radically different way from nth. But it happens. The West is at that point.

The old certainties are gone. Whether Wilders is suppressed or goes forward is in some sense immaterial. Events have crossed over into new territory where survival is a function of the speed at which you learn.
If an elected Dutch parliamentarian can be censored by his own government due to jihadi threats, how long will it be before individuals or groups begin threatening to make and disseminate material provocative to the jihadis for the express purpose of extorting the Dutch government? Or any government, for that matter?

At least some Americans are finally learning something which will impact the domestic debate concerning Iraq. From a New York Times report:
After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach. The youth prison wing of the Iraqi police compound in Baghdad. Many young people have taken part in Iraq’s sectarian violence.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.
-------------
While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied. Fingers caught in the act of smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its wearer. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold.
According the the CIA, the median age in Iraq is 20. And they have witnessed first hand the behavior of the jihadis. And the conduct of US troops.

Link via Ed Morrissey, who comments:
So read the whole thing, paying special attention to what voting along sectarian lines really means (see also Iraqpundit about that) and the mercenary motivations held by so many of the “pious.” An improving Iraqi economy will help solve that problem too by raising the cost of jihadi recruiting for Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the rest of the scum who are bankrolling it.
IraqPundit comments:
And here's the best evidence of this supposed "shift": "In a nod to those changing tastes, political parties are dropping overt references to religion."

In fact, Iraq has a long history of secular, intermarried people living in mixed neighbourhoods. For that matter, Mookie's own handlers have lately been tripping over themselves trying to present someone more acceptable to those very same Iraqis.

Indeed, Mookie's own people have said on the record that they were afraid that young people would turn away from religion because "secularism is attractive in Iraq."
Here's what one of al Sadr's advisers had to say:
The guy in the suit is particularly concerned about the appeal of secular groups. "There are so many secular organizations that will attract them like a magnet just like what happened during the time of Seyid Mohammed Baqir Al Sadr [Moktada's uncle], when the Marxist party attracted all the youth including the sons of the clerics. This might reoccur within two or three years. Secularism is attractive in Iraq. It's true that the economy is not prosperous nowadays but in two or three years this could change. The league ..."
Abe Greenwald notes:
This Times piece represents a tectonic shift in the Iraq War and in the larger ideological struggle. From this date on, the War cannot be talked about in quite the same way. Those opposed to it can no longer snicker so easily when recalling the President’s assertion that people everywhere want freedom, and they may have to check their rage before declaring we’ve created more terrorists. There are some who understood that changing hearts and minds was the only way to triumph in the long run, but felt that Iraq was a huge setback in that pursuit.
It wasn't. I just hope Americans recognize this tectonic shift in time, and that John McCain can take advantage of it this fall.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

 

Apple on our mind

I know a certain someone who is considering buying a Mac because they are sick of the virus' and related hassles caused by Microsoft's software. I ran across this and I thought I should share.

I have been a Sprint customer for at least ten years, I think. They are losing customers at a very serious rate. Some two million are expected to leave this quarter. I am one of them.

My new Treo phone stopped working. It is only a few months old. I gave it to my assistant to take to Sprint and get it exchanged, as I have insurance on it, which I pay $5 a month for. Also, Sprint has the worst customer service. It can take hours to get through the lines at their nearest store, and you can be on hold for a long time on the phone, so I let my assistant deal with them. After waiting forever in line, she got to the desk and explained the problem. They took the phone and came back and said they would not replace it as I must have dropped it in some water, since it was corroded on the inside. They are not responsible if I drop it in the water. She had to get out of line and call me.

I told her I had not dropped it in the water and I wanted a new one like the contract said. I spend almost $5,000 a year with Sprint, and I wanted them to honor that contract. She once again had to get in line, waiting for an hour to get to another clerk, who told her he could not do anything, but we could call customer service. After she endured yet another conversation and waited another hour, I told her to come on back to the office.

I called my friend who is an expert in the cell phone business, and he said AT&T was the best. I got in the car with my daughter, we drove five minutes to an AT&T store, and in an hour I had a new iPhone from Apple, at a lot less per month than Sprint. No waiting in line. Very friendly and knowledgeable service.

Tiffani has bought a new Apple Macbook Air. It is amazingly thin and light, with a full keyboard and lots of cool features. She loves it. I liked the look, but did not want to spend the time learning a new system. I have always teased people who use Macs as being members of a cult.

Then I started using the iPhone. I am simply blown away. I love this thing. Yes, there are some features I wish they had, but not major ones, and I bet the next versions will have them in a year or so.

So, I let Tiffani persuade me to go to the Apple store near my home. We actually set up a private 30-minute appointment online with a sales representative. When we met, he carried a sign that said we were in a private meeting. I was blown away by the MacBook Air. I am going to get one before my next trip. It will reduce my carry-on weight by 4 pounds or so.

And for $99, they will let me come in one hour a week for a whole year for one-on-one personalized tutoring on any program or aspect of anything Apple makes. Any question I want.

It is likely that when we move next, we are going to convert the office to Apple. I can run my Microsoft software but not have to deal with viruses and garbage.

I wonder how many people like me are going to get an iPhone and start to think about other Apple products. And love the service?

Memo to Sprint board: steal someone from Apple to come run customer service. Or watch your customer base continue to erode. [Emphasis added.]


Also, according to the above linked article we are very close to seeing oil pass its inflation adjusted high from 1980. That price would be about $104/barrel.

Diego: Perhaps a more apt heading would be : Apple Of Our i.

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Trouble Back Home For Barak Obama?

Are national media interested?

Lynne Sweet summarizes Obama's connections to Tony Rezko, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Austan Goolsbee and William Ayers and his problem retgarding Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. From Wikipedia's biography of Wright:
The title of Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope was taken from a sermon written by Wright.[5] Obama first met Wright and joined his church while he was working as a community organizer prior to attending Harvard Law School. Obama's connection to Wright first drew attention in a February 2007 Rolling Stone article which described a speech in which Wright forcefully spoke about racism against African-Americans.[6] Citing the article and fears that any further controversy would harm the church, Obama scrapped plans of having Wright introduce him at his Presidential announcement. [7]

This only drew further interest into Wright's preaching of Black liberation theology which some conservative critics say promotes "a sort of racial exclusivity".[8] Wright has rejected this notion by saying that "The African-centered point of view does not assume superiority, nor does it assume separatism. It assumes Africans speaking for themselves as subjects in history, not objects in history."[9]

During the course of the campaign, Wright has also attracted controversy for his association with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.[10] Wright travelled to Libya with Farrakhan in the 1980s. In 2007, Wright addressed this by saying "When [Obama’s] enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli to visit Colonel Gadaffi with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."[11] In 2007, Trumpet Magazine (published and edited by Wright's daughter) presented the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to Farrakhan, whom it said "truly epitomized greatness."[12] Wright is quoted in the magazine offering praise of Farrakhan "as one of the 20th and. 21st century giants of the African American religious experience" and also praised Farrakhan's "integrity and honesty."[13] In response, Obama noted his disagreement with the decision to give the award to Farrakhan; his statement was praised by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.[14]

In addition, Wright has said that Zionism has an element of "white racism", and that the attacks on 9/11 were a consequence of violent American policies and proved that "people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just 'disappeared' as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns."[15]
From Ayers' Wikipedia biography:
Ayers went underground with several comrades after their co-conspirators' bomb accidentally exploded on March 6, 1970, destroying a Greenwich Village townhouse and killing three members of the Weather Underground (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton, who was Ayers' girlfriend at the time). He and his colleagues invented identities and traveled continuously. They avoided the police and FBI, while bombing high-profile government buildings including the United States Capitol, The Pentagon, and the Harry S Truman Building housing the State Department. Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised two children, Zayd and Malik, underground before turning themselves in in 1981, when most charges were dropped because prosecutorial misconduct during the long search for the fugitives.[1] They also adopted a son, Chesa Boudin, who is the biological son of former Weathermen David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin.

Ayers published his memoirs in 2001 with the book Fugitive Days. His interview with the New York Times to promote his book was published on September 11, 2001, and includes his reaction to Emile De Antonio's 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen: "He was 'embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way,' he writes. 'The rigidity and the narcissism.'" In this interview, he also was quoted as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough." [2]
(My emphasis.) Rezko is a shady political operative on trial tomorrow for fraud. Wright and Farrakhan are odious characters. Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist.

On Intrade Obama's Democratic Presidential Nominee contract last traded at 86.1; his US Presidential Election contract last traded at 57.9.

 

Oscar Winner Marion Cotillard

Denies she has any kind of "Anglo-Saxon ambition"

Oscar winner Marion Cotillard doesn't believe the Apollo Moon Landings occurred. She has also accused America of fabricating the 9/11 attacks:
I think we're lied to about a number of things," Cotillard said, singling out the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center as an example of the US making up horror stories for political ends.

Referring to the two passenger jets being flown into the Twin Towers, Cotillard said:

"We see other towers of the same kind being hit by planes. Are they burned? They [sic] was a tower, I believe it was in Spain, which burnt for 24 hours. It never collapsed. None of these towers collapsed. And there [in New York], in a few minutes, the whole thing collapsed."

She added that the towers, planned in the early Sixties, were an outdated "money-sucker" that would have cost more to modernise than to rebuild altogether, which is why they were destroyed.

She said: "It was a money-sucker because they were finished, it seems to me, by 1973, and to re-cable all that, to bring up-to-date all the technology and everything, it was a lot more expensive, that work, than destroying them."
I hope she's ridiculed for this and that it kills her career.

Via William Katz.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

 

Prince Harry

Why Prince?

Prince of what?

Many in the media and the British military are upset with Matt Drudge because he disclosed Prince Harry's whereabouts. From Newsweek:
Despite the british government's concerted effort to preserve the secret, a veteran Taliban field officer claims he was scarcely surprised by the disclosure that Prince Harry was serving with Britain's troops in southern Afghanistan. Fearing that insurgents would specifically target Cornet Wales (the prince's military title) and his fellow soldiers if his presence in the battle zone were publicly revealed, the top British brass did everything possible to prevent leaks about his deployment on Dec. 14 to Helmand province. But talking to newsweek via satellite phone from that region last week, deputy commander Mullah Abdul Karim recalled getting an urgent message from Taliban intelligence in late December or early January that "an important chicken" had joined British troops in his area of operations. Karim promptly sent his men hunting for the prince. "He is our special enemy," says Karim. "Our first option was to capture him as a prisoner, and the second, to kill him."
Gee, what was the third option? They failed. Why was that?

I have seen many articles denouncing Matt Drudge for disclosing information regarding Prince Harry's deployment to Helmand province; all of them are ridiculous. Matt Drudge has every right to report on Prince Harry's whereabouts. The operative question is why the moniker of "Prince" exists at all in Western society.

 

The Virtual Fence Is A Ruse

Build a real one

Mickey Kaus exerpts this quote from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff from earlier in the week:
"I have personally witnessed the value of this system, and I have spoken directly to the border patrol agents...who have seen it produce actual results, in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who were illegally smuggling across the border," Chertoff said.
Later, we learn:
The Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of the first phase of the project by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear, federal officials said yesterday.

Technical problems discovered in a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson prompted the change in plans, Department of Homeland Security officials and congressional auditors told a House subcommittee.

Though the department took over that initial stretch Friday from Boeing, authorities confirmed that Project 28, the initial deployment of the Secure Border Initiative network, did not work as planned or meet the needs of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The announcement marked a major setback for what President Bush in May 2006 called "the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history." The virtual fence was to be a key component of his proposed overhaul of U.S. immigration policies, which died last year in the Senate.
Tammy Bruce notes:
In other words, we've all just been taken for a ride, and for something we didn't even accept as adequate in the first place. In order to do whatever possible to avoid building an actual physical fence and to get the amnesty bill passed, Bush, McCain and their amnesty cronies made sure a monumental amount of money was wasted on a fake, untested, unreal fence to placate conservatives who simply want to keep this nation safe from predators.
Via Mark Kirkorian who comments:
If there's a setback here, it's to the amnesty crowd — the work involved in constructing a real immigration-enforcement infrastructure (at the border as well as in the interior) points to the unworkability of the McCain-Kennedy "comprehensive" approach of granting amnesty now in return for promises of enforcement in the future. Even McCain's claim that he now supports a year or two of enforcement before proceeding to amnesty is clearly unworkable; it will take at least an entire term — at least — not only to implement the technological elements of better enforcement, but also to staff up in the proper areas and to overcome the furious legal assault that the ACLU and its cronies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will wage to stymie enforcement.
I hope he's right about this being a setback for the amnesty crowd.

We need an actual fence across our entire southern border, a formidable physical barrier that stops the unregulated flow of people across it. Our political elites simply cannot be trusted on border security and an actual fence mostly takes matters out of their hands.

 

Barak Obama & Tony Rezko

Products of Chicago's sick political culture

Rick Moran takes a good look at the connections between Barak Obama and the indicted Tony Rezko, whose trial on fraud charges is scheduled to begin Monday. Moran explains how Rezko helped Obama purchase his dream house:
The sellers of the house also owned a vacant lot adjacent to the property. But since the lot could only be accessed through the property where the house sat, it would have been pretty worthless to anyone except the owner of the dwelling. Offering price for both: $2.6 million.

This turned out to be a little steep for Obama who had just received a $1.2 million advance on a book. No problem for Mr. Fixit. Obama went in on a deal where Mrs. Rezko plunked down $125,000 for the $625,000 vacant lot. The sellers say that they gave Obama a $300,000 discount because his was the highest bid. The fact that Obama was the only one bidding on the house raises some eyebrows considering the neighborhood and the market at the time. Obama claims the house had been on the market 3 months which is not a long time considering the $2 million asking price and the complication of the vacant lot next door.

By paying full freight for the vacant lot – a lot that could never be developed unless bought by Obama – Rezko got his pal his dream house at a substantial discount.

The sellers have declined to talk directly to the media and have answered questions through Obama campaign headquarters. This might be considered strange in some quarters. But not if you’re considered the new messiah of politics.

The Auchi “loan” could very well have financed the whole deal. Court documents a year later show Mrs. Rezko making a salary of $37,000 with $35,000 in assets. Poor Tony reported that he had “no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets, no unencumbered assets [and] is significantly in arrears on many of his obligations.”

And that brings us to the final finagle; the sale of part of that vacant lot by Rezko to Obama.

It seems that Tony was in dire straits financially. He offered to sell a 10 X 150 foot parcel of the lot, valued at $40,500 dollars to Obama. His long time pal agreed, paying more twice the appraised value – $104,000. Obama claims it was to increase the size of his garden.

Some garden, huh?

For someone he supposedly barely knew, Obama and Rezko sure did each other a lot of favors.
Yes, they did.

Jay Stewart observes:
"We have a sick political culture," said Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, "and that's the environment that Barack Obama came from."

Stewart says he does not understand why Obama has lectured others about corruption in Washington and Kenya but "been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic politicians."
I don't understand this myself. Neither does Ed Morrissey, who raises a few questions:
For a man who promises to reform Washington, how much effort did he put into reforming Chicago and Illinois? He served in the state legislature for seven years. Did he attempt to start a reform movement, as Bobby Jindal has done in Louisiana? Or did his close relationship to a fixer like Rezko have something to do with any lack of crusading zeal?
I'm curious about Obama's opinions concerning the the culture of corruption in Chicago and Illinois and the record compiled by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Illinois politicians absolutely hate Fitzgerald because he has aggressively investigated government corruption and prosecuted political heavyweights, such as former governor George Ryan. He will be the prosecutor in Tony Rezko's trial. And, as a federal judge made clear, he has his sights set on Public Official A.

I have a question for Senator Obama: As president, would you re-appoint Patrick Fitzgerald as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois?

 

10.25%

Chicago's new sales tax rate

Late last night:
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger struck a deal with board members, who early Saturday approved a 1 percent increase in the sales tax - driving Chicago's overall sales tax to double digits at 10.25 percent, easily among the highest of any big city.
The Sun-Times article notes:
The swing vote to pass the budget was set to come from Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who campaigned for state's attorney on a boast that he had "stood up to Todd Stroger's tax increases," and as of Friday night, his website still quotes him as saying "at this point, I see no need for any increase in taxes."
As I write this on Saturday morning, his web site still has his that quote posted. (Didn't I just write something about the level of honesty among Chicago politicians?) It also reprints a Chicago Tribune article confirming the Sun-Times account of his role the deal, and notes:
Under the deal, the county portion of the sales tax increases from 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent in November. As a result, someone buying $100 worth of merchandise will pay an extra dollar in sales tax.

Chicago's overall sales tax will stand at 10.25 percent, the highest of any major U.S. city. In suburban Cook, the sales tax would be a minimum of 9 percent. By comparison, the rates in New York and Los Angeles are below 8.5 percent.
Stroger had been seeking to hike the sales tax in Chicago to 12%. Still, this is outrageous. Chicagoans like myself now have even greater incentive to shop in Lake and DuPage counties or in Indiana as often as possible. I expect to be writing the previous sentence again in four years, unless the feds take a long overdue hard look at Cook county governance.

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